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Support for L.T.C. overhaul overwhelming in Upolu consultations

A Special Parliamentary Committee seeking public feedback on proposed reforms to the Land and Titles Court [L.T.C.] and the judiciary has received strong support for the overhaul from villages in Upolu.  

A Committee spokesperson, Fuimaono Te'o Samuelu, told the Samoa Observer on Thursday that he rejected claims by critics that the Committee was acting to promote the bills and not seek neutral public opinion on them. 

The three bills in question are the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, the Lands and Titles Court Bill 2020, and the Judicature Bill 2020. Together, they will create an entirely autonomous Court which is not subject to review by the Supreme Court. 

The bills have already been introduced to Parliament and are at the second reading stage of the parliamentary process. 

Fuimaono, who is the Falealili East Member of Parliament, said while a few villages have asked for more time, the majority have received the bills well.

Last week, the Committee met with villages from Aana, Aiga-i-le-tai, followed by Falelatai on Tuesday and Lefaga on Wednesday.

"In Falelatai alone, no village expressed an opposition but their questions and recommendations were very good," Fuimaono said.

"All villages of Falelatai have accepted the bills together with their requests for amendments, and the same goes for Aana."

Fuimaono said many of the questions received by the Committee related to the implications the bill would have for the ownership of customary lands and related issues.

"However, we explained and clarified that there is a provision under the Constitution that protects customary lands such as Article 102 of the Constitution," he said.

"We feel that that is their concern, because there may have been others before us whom they discussed the bills with, but after our session, they had felt relieved.

"And as we told them, the bills can be amended and so far, in all of Upolu, only Vaimoso expressed their opposition. But from Vaimauga up to now, no other village has rejected the bills."

Fuimaono said that while the Special Committee is not noting every single support and rejection of the bills, its duty was to “explain and clarify” their content and applications. 

"We are not urging the people and promoting the bills," Fuimaono added.

"Once we are done with our role of explaining, then we open the floor for questions and recommendations. They are entitled to show their disapproval and opinions.

"We are taking note of every recommendation put forth by the villages, the Committee, the Legislative Assembly Office, the Office of the Attorney General as well as the Registrar's Office from the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration."

When asked about some public concerns raised about the amount of time taken for conducting consultations for three bills, he said consultations often do not run to schedule. 

"As you know, most of the time if the villages do not have any questions, then there is no reason to drag it out. Once the questions have completed, then the Committee's work is done too," he said.

"But saying there is not enough time [is untrue]; there is a lot of time. Even though we have time for each village, it is rarely followed, because until the village has completed their questions, then their time is also over."

The public consultations by the Special Parliamentary Committee continue.

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